by Sara N.
Readers of Stacia Kane's Downside Ghosts series, let me reassure you: The things you love about the series abound in Kane's fourth novel, Sacrificial Magic. Terrifying ghosts. Malicious evil-doers. Magic, both pure and vile. That distinctive Downside cant. And — perhaps most importantly for many of us — the crackling, fraught passion between Chess and Terrible.
A bit of background: These urban fantasy novels are set in a near-future in which the dead have risen and desire only to kill the living. The only thing protecting the public from these furious ghosts is the Church, which employes witches to investigate the hauntings and capture the malevolent spirits.
In Sacrificial Magic, Churchwitch Chess Putnam is tasked with rooting out a haunting at a Downside school. Her investigation introduces her to a host of new characters, none of whom she's inclined to trust. It also thrusts her into working with Lex, a powerful gang leader and her former lover. This close proximity doesn't sit well with Chess' boyfriend, Terrible, whose jealousy of Lex is perhaps not entirely unfounded.
As always, Kane excels at creating truly frightening bad guys. The damage done to innocents and not-so-innocents alike is chilling. And as always, Kane presents Chess as a talented, brave and heroic practitioner of magic who, quite simply, gets the job done. A new element in Sacrificial Magic is an increased focus on Chess' relationship with her Church superior, Elder Griffin. Griffin is clearly fond of Chess and proud of her work, and he wants to bring her into his personal life a bit more by introducing her to his fiance. He could be a kind, supportive presence for Chess if she would just let him, and I wanted her to reach out to him in their scenes together. But, Chess being Chess, she doesn't.
Because, as Downside readers know, Chess has a big problem. Her pill addiction consumes her life, and she has to keep it a secret from the Church, lest her professional life come crumbling down around her. In Sacrificial Magic, Chess's addictions come close to spiraling out of control in a section that feels very much like rock-bottom, and wow, is it tough to read. Her childhood in a series of loveless and abusive foster homes was unspeakably bad, and as an adult, it's left her with wicked insecurities about her self-worth and her ability to love and be loved. Naturally, this makes it difficult to manage her new relationship with taciturn gang enforcer Terrible.
Oh, Terrible. He's one of the most compelling characters in urban fantasy today. He's a violent thug and a man of few words, but Kane writes him beautifully, hinting at the intelligence, kindness and devotion that lurk beneath his tough exterior. He loves Chess, but he's not the verbal type, so she misunderstands and misinterprets his actions, leaving him fumbling to explain. Their relationship has been marked by outbursts of rage and passion, and Sacrificial Magic is no exception as Chess and Terrible stumble their way through their romance. Would I want that turbulence in my own life? No way. But I'll admit to greatly enjoying the delicious high drama that the two of them generate.
The fifth book in the series, Chasing Magic, comes out in June, and it promises more tension as Chess is caught in the middle of Downside's escalating gang turf wars. But despite the physical dangers, it's Chess's personal demons that I worry about. I hope she'll come to trust that Terrible's feelings for her are true and lasting, and I yearn for her to acknowledge the harm her pill addiction is causing her. Kane excels at
making readers experience the pain her heroine suffers, and Chess suffers mightily in this book. I hope for
all of our sakes, Chess will begin trying to conquer her demons with the help of those in her life who care about her.
Sacrificial Magic will be released on Tuesday, March 27.